Glossary of borrowed phrases

This glossary explains the terms we have borrowed from other places and often attributed to them different meanings. We acknowledge our source of linguistic inspiration as well as how we re-contextualized the phrases within the work of the collective.

Adjacent possible: this phrase was originally coined by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman to denote the ever expanding range of more and more complex evolutionary possibilities that are made possible through incremental changes in the biological systems make-up. Through these changes the systems expand (shift) from their actual (current) state to the adjacent possible (future ones).  While the range of these possibilities could be considered almost infinite, it is nevertheless restricted by initial boundary conditions. Other authors, such R.M. Unger, introduced the term to critical social theory to suggest that there are essentially no limits to the range of possible (social) worlds, structures, institutions and states of affairs.  Paulo Freire has also used the phrase “inédito viável” with similar connotations in relation to worlds where those who are oppressed would achieve liberation.

Although both Freire and Unger sought to expand the range of what is considered (politically and epistemically) possible in terms of changing (reforming, revolutionizing) existing social structures, neither of them engaged in exploring existential (ontological) possibilities that would lie beyond those afforded by the cognitive, affective and relational restrictions of universal reason and separability (the boundary conditions of their approaches). Since our use of the term relates it to possibilities that are viable but unimaginable within modern-colonial ontology, where being is reduced to knowing and “man” is seen as separate from nature, we claim that our use of the term is different from theirs in its attempt to gesture towards existential possibilities (ways of being) that emerge from ontological grounds that offer a different/expanded range in relation to the modern-colonial  boundary conditions.

Hospicing and midwifering: the twin concepts of hospicing and midwifering are part of the “two loops model” of systemic life cycle analysis developed by Deborah Frieze and Margaret Wheatley of the Berkana Institute. In this model each complex system undergoes the initial period of growth and stabilization, before it undergoes a period of decline and decomposition.  As the system is approaching its decline it requires the work of hospicing to ensure a gentle and generative passing away, which involves both mourning and celebration. As the old system begins to break apart and decompose, those working in midwifering are assisting with the birth of a new system that is emerging simultaneously with the decline of the old one. Although our use of these terms is inspired by the analysis of Frieze and Wheatley, their model emphasizes innovation and creation of collective (shared) identities as key elements of systemic transformation, while our approach seeks to de-center human ingenuity and agency as the only (or the most important) possible sources of transformation, while at same time we try to explore how to build relationships that are not based on a need for a shared identity, knowledge or understanding.

The end of the world as we know it: many different authors, including critical race theorist Denise Ferreira da Silva, population and development researcher Tim Dyson, historian of religion Mircea Eliade, writers and activists Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein,  cultural theorist Daniel Wojcik, artists from T.S. Eliott to R.E.M, together with a throng of survivalists with highly contentious ideas have all availed themselves of this phrase. Bracketing out other possible interpretations, our use of this phrase draws on the work of da Silva, as well as on the “Dark Mountain Manifesto” of Kingsnorth and Hine. In the writings of these three authors, “the end of the world as we know it” does not mean an end of the world as such, it merely denotes the end of the way in which we were taught to know (and relate to) the world.